The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe has -- with immediate effect -- prohibited all local cellular companies from selling pre-paid lines loaded with airtime.

The statutory body has also set new prices at which the lines should be sold, which vary from company to company in line with production and packaging costs that the operators submitted. Zimbabwe has three mobile phone operators: Econet Wireless, Telecel Zimbabwe and Net One.

An official with Telecel said they would from now on sell their pre-paid Juice-Up brand for Z$6,100, down from Z$20,000. Net One managing director Reward Kangai also confirmed their prepaid brand, Easycall, would now be priced at Z$5,700 down, from Z$10,000. Econet chief executive Douglas Mboweni said the company would make a public statement regarding the pricing of their Buddie and Libertie pre-paid brands.

Prior to the latest gazetted prices, Telecel prepaid lines were loaded with Z$17,000 of airtime while Net One's had Z$7,000 airtime's worth. Buddie lines were selling for Z$24,000, including Z$22,000 worth of airtime.

Players said the latest move by the country's telecommunications regulator would result in more lines being channelled to the black market. Mboweni said: "All mobile phone companies are into airtime business and selling SIM cards with or without airtime will not make much difference. The reason for loading airtime was meant to ensure that lines would be bought by the final user. Low prices will certainly encourage the parallel market."

A senior Potraz official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, warned that penalties would be imposed on companies that would be found selling lines above the regulated prices. "I cannot comment on that one, but we appeal to Econet, Net One and Telecel to stick to the new regulated prices of which failure to comply would result in heavy penalties imposed on them," said the official. "They should also find tight monitoring measures to ensure no lines would find their way to the black market."

Players said they would continue engaging Potraz on the rationale of banning loading airtime to prepaid line to reach a compromise.

Meanwhile, Potraz has approved new cellular tariffs. Although Herald Business could not obtain the new charges by the time of going to Press, it is understood from a source within the sector that the "approved tariffs are uneconomical" and would "worsen challenges facing the industry".

The Herald

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